What is an Edwards Aquifer Protection Program Conservation Easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and the City of San Antonio (CoSA) to preserve the natural condition of lands that lie over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge and Contributing Zones for the protection of the quantity and quality of water entering the aquifer. The CoSA is responsible for the long term monitoring and enforcement of the provisions of the easement. Once a conservation easement is signed, it is recorded with the County in which the land is located and applies to all future owners of the land.
Why conservation easements?
Conservation easements are flexible legal tools that allow both a landowner and a qualified holder of the easement, in this case the CoSA, to find common ground in their conservation objectives. People often sell or donate conservation easements because they wish to protect their property from unwanted development while retaining ownership of the land. Because a conservation easement is designed to run with the land in perpetuity, it ensures that the property will be protected forever, regardless of who owns the land in the future.
Additionally, because the purchase price of a conservation easement is less than the fair market value of a property, the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program is able to preserve more land over the aquifer than if we were acquiring fee title. Thus, the CoSA is soundly investing in both the present and long-term protection of San Antonio's primary water source.
How much land must be included in a conservation easement?
Typically, larger parcels of land are the most desirable because they provide a larger area of protection from development. However, if certain geological or hydrological features are present on a smaller parcel of land, that property may become as important to water quality as the larger property. Each parcel of land considered for inclusion in the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program is analyzed and considered on a case-by-case basis.
Is a conservation easement appropriate for every landowner?
Conservation easements are designed to meet the needs of the CoSA and the goals of the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program: protecting the water quality and quantity of the Edwards Aquifer. Landowners considering an easement should consult with family members as well as professional tax and legal advisors to best determine whether this tool will help accomplish their long-term conservation and economic goals.
Does every conservation easement have to be perpetual?
All of the CoSA's Edwards Aquifer Protection Program conservation easements are perpetual. Since the goals of the easement are to protect water quality and quantity, it is important that these lands be protected in perpetuity.
Can I still build on my property?
Yes, but any future development on the property will be limited. A conservation easement typically allows landowners to build within designated building zones, but only to pre-determined amounts of impervious land cover - usually equaling one-half of one percent of the property's total acreage. (Example: a 500 acre property would allow for up to 108,900 square feet of impervious cover in the building zones.)
Can I still sell my property?
Yes, property with a conservation easement may be bought, sold and inherited. However, the conservation easement is tied to the land and binds all present and future owners to its terms and restrictions.
Does a conservation easement grant public access to my property?
No. Edwards Aquifer Protection Program conservation easements grant no right of access to the general public. However, the CoSA, the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) and their contractors must be allowed to enter the property, with prior landowner notification and approval, to conduct annual monitoring of the easement.
Can conservation easements be changed?
It is the policy of the CoSA to hold and enforce its conservation easements as written. Amendments to conservation easements will be authorized only in limited situations and only in the types of conditions outlined in the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program's Conservation Easement Amendment Policy. No amendments to conservation easements will be granted which could cause an easement to violate applicable federal, state or local laws, regulations or ordinances.
What happens after the conservation easement is in place?
Upon signing a conservation easement, the CoSA and the landowner enter into a partnership intended to meet the goals of the easement. Landowners may continue to use their property as before but with some new limitations. Additionally, the easement will be monitored on an annual basis to ensure program compliance. It is the CoSA objective to maintain heathly landowner relations and to provide conservation-related services to participating landowners on an as-needed basis.
What if the property is owned by more than one person?
All owners of a property must agree to the terms of the conservation easement before it can be recorded.
What statutes create the legal basis for conservation easements in Texas?
Conservation easements are recognized for legal and tax purposes by the State of Texas (Chapter 183, Texas Natural Resources Code) and the Internal Revenue Service (Internal Revenue Code, Section 170(h)). Before initiating a conservation easement agreement, landowners should consult with their legal and tax advisors.